While hard water is not bad for your health, it can create major plumbing issues if left untreated over time. Hard water refers to the fresh water running into your home that contains high levels of natural minerals – particularly magnesium and calcium – that can, among other things, leave mineral deposits in your plumbing. The amount of mineral content in your water is measured in hardness level – illustrated through milligrams per liter. Understanding what hard water is and how to measure it will help you prevent damage to your appliances and plumbing.

Do I Have Hard Water?

From the time rain water falls from the sky to being collected in an aquifer, it absorbs minerals, which is how soft water becomes hard. The hardness level of water is broken down into four main groups based on milligrams per liter:

  • Soft: 0–60 mg/L
  • Moderately hard: 61–120 mg/L
  • Hard: 121–180 mg/L
  • Very hard: >181 mg/L

To test for hard water in your home, there are a number of water hardness test strips easily found in your local home improvement or hardware store. The test strips will indicate your hardness level by changing colors. A quick and easy test for hard water is to shake a small amount of dish soap and water in a closed container. If the soap doesn’t create a lot of suds, you likely have hard water. The minerals in hard water don’t allow soap to lather.

Is Hard Water Bad For Plumbing?

Hard water is tough on plumbing and can create buildup in your pipes over time. Pipes, however, aren’t the only plumbing elements affected by hard water. Here are a few bathroom and plumbing problems caused by hard water:

  • Clogs
  • Reduced water flow
  • Soap buildup in shower, tub, and sinks
  • Mineral deposits build up inside pipes, fixtures, and appliances
  • Appliances can run less efficiently
  • Mineral deposits settle in water heater, reducing its lifespan
  • Difficulty cleaning clothes, dishes, and skin because soap doesn’t lather well

Steel pipes are a particular concern for areas with hard water as these types of pipes fall victim to mineral buildup, which can cause complete blockages or cause the pipe to burst. Fortunately, most modern homes are built with plastic or copper pipes, which can still suffer clogs, but aren’t as susceptible as steel.

Another loss your home can suffer due to hard water is problems with the water heater – not a cheap fix. Hard water causes scale and sediment to settle in the bottom of the tank, which causes your tank to waste energy as the sediment must heat before the water gets hot.

Solutions For Hard Water

If you’re looking for a permanent fix for hard water, consider a whole-house water softener. Systems can cost upwards of $1,000, depending on the size of your home, but offer a better way to wash your clothes and prevent buildup in your pipes. Water conditioning products are also available, but are suited for moderately hard water levels. Regular maintenance of your plumbing is also a good idea to avoid major clogs and sediment settling in your water heater.